Fifteen years ago, my family and I came to Richmond, Virginia, as refugees from Afghanistan. I am still amazed at how my parents were able to make the move. How could we suddenly bring ourselves to leave the place we called home for thousands of generations? Or leave behind people we loved knowing that we might never see them again? Everyone had heard of a place called “America” but we had no idea where we were going, and it would be no exaggeration to say that we made the journey from across the world with nothing but a few articles of clothing. Nonetheless, the mood flying to America was ecstatic.
The one thing that gave us joy over the sorrows of leaving home was the possibility of having control over our lives. It goes without saying that just coming to America does not guarantee happiness, but like most refugees, we were tired of merely surviving. We did not want to be a casualty of a war or a statistic of an epidemic. My parents were willing to risk all that we had for the chance to thrive as human beings and work on building a meaningful life.
Today, I am happy to say that coming to America was worth the risk. My family and I found friendship with many welcoming Americans from all walks of life who helped us assimilate into this society. We became naturalized citizens of the United States and are now active members of our community.
Perhaps the most profound thing given to us in America is the opportunity to earn an education. This was a big deal for my sister and I, coming from a place where girls were banned from attending school. In America, we worked hard to learn English and catch up to our peers in school. Our family was able to support us as we successfully graduated from college. Currently, my sister and I are both in professional schools. She has chosen to pursue her passion in law school, and I am working on a Ph.D. in medical school.
When my brothers came to America, they started working to support our family. They worked hard throughout the years to create good lives for themselves. Today, they are both married with kids that are in grade school. Their children have an even brighter future ahead of them than our generation.
I will conclude by saying that I am very grateful for the risk my parents took on coming to America. For those of you who have taken a similar risk, I want to welcome you to America. The journey to starting a new life here is different for each family and individual. I am, however, very hopeful that like my family, you will also get a chance to work on building a life of your choosing.
Amina Abdul Qayum, Ph.D. Student, Department of Microbiology and Immunology , Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine